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IWRA World Water Congress 2003 Madrid Spain
IWRA WWC2003 - default topic
Author(s): Dr. Poh-Ling TAN

Dr. Poh-Ling TAN
School of Law, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology 1 George Street, GPO Box 2434,
Brisbane, Queensland 4001,AUSTRALIA. Tel- 617 38642010, Fax - 617 3864 2121,
Email: p.tan@qut.edu.au



Australia is an old continent, with areas that are prone to salinity problems. Water is scarce, and its supply is variable. As is often said, Australia is both wet and dry. It has some of the wettest areas on earth, while other areas experience prolonged droughts, seasons of low and variable rainfall broken by sweeping floods. Compared with other continents such as Europe and North America, this is a dry continent. As a result, Australia has the highest per capita storage capacity of all countries in the world. Groundwater is an important part of the resource.
Access to water resources in Australia has, in the last 250 years, been governed by three different regimes. Until colonial settlement, indigenous peoples’ relationship to land and water was characterised by a custodial obligations only recently recognised as a form of communal property rights.iv As part of the reception of the English common land into Australia, the colonisers instituted a regime of access to water based on a different sort of common property regime.
Riparian rights were restricted to a select group of people who occupied land next to rivers. It was recognised in the 1880s that common law riparian principles were not suitable for development of water resources of the colony. Hence a regulatory regime was instituted to vest use and control of water resources in the State.vi Incremental changes were made to that regime for the next 100 years. The country is a federation, and the management of water resources is considered a state matter. In the mid 1990s the Commonwealth and state governments agreed that reform was necessary for an efficient and sustainable use of water resources. They noted widespread natural resource degradation and called for new measures to halt this. As a consequence, all of the Australian states have now passed new water legislation.vii Amongst the many objectives of reform were the introduction of 

  • clearly specified water entitlements which separate water property rights from land title,
  • allocation of water for the environment, and where river systems were over-allocated, for ‘substantial progress’ to provide a better balance in water resource use, 
  • and public consultation where new initiatives are proposed especially in relation to pricing, specification of water entitlements and trading in those entitlements.

An area of intense water development and use, the Murray-Darling Basin located in eastern Australia, has been the cutting edge for reform. Many of the water allocation and management practices adopted in the country have originated from those in the Basin. The Basin is a large
river system within which there are nested smaller drainage areas. Four political jurisdictions share the water resources of this large river system: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. The Basin contains the largest concentration of water use in the country ...

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